Wildfires Ravage Nepal's Forests, Destroying Homes and Wildlife

Devastating wildfires ravage Nepal, destroying homes, wildlife, and livelihoods. Experts link the crisis to climate change, urging action to protect the country's natural heritage.

Shivani Chauhan
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Wildfires Ravage Nepal's Forests, Destroying Homes and Wildlife

Wildfires Ravage Nepal's Forests, Destroying Homes and Wildlife

Wildfires have been raging daily across community, national, reserve, and conservation forests in several districts of Nepal, causing widespread destruction of homes, property, and wildlife. The prolonged dry spell, strong winds, and dried-up foliage have contributed to the rapid spread of these fires, which have affected thousands of hectares of forests, particularly in the Lumbini and Madhesh provinces.

On Wednesday, a fast-spreading blaze destroyed at least 110 homes in Jaralhawa Gachhi village, Matihani Municipality, Mahottari district. The fire, which started from a haystack, was brought under control after several hours with the help of security personnel and local residents. Many families have been left homeless, and livestock were also killed in the incident. Similar incidents of house fires have been reported in Rautahat and Parsa districts, with properties worth millions of rupees destroyed.

According to officials, human activities like discarding cigarette butts, burning dry vegetation, and deliberate burning by grazers and poachers are the main reasons for these forest fires, which often go beyond control due to the hotter and drier conditions. At least 196 incidents of forest fires have been recorded since January this year.

Why this matters: The devastating wildfires in Nepal not only pose a significant threat to the country's biodiversity and ecosystems but also have far-reaching consequences for the livelihoods and well-being of local communities. Addressing the root causes of these fires and implementing effective prevention and management strategies are essential for protecting Nepal's natural heritage and ensuring the safety of its citizens.

The high-mountain region in Asia has experienced significant glacier mass loss due to record-breaking high temperatures and dry conditions, leading to intensified avalanches and landslides in the upper regions, as well as droughts and heatwaves in the plains. The Kathmandu Valley's air quality has worsened, with the Air Quality Index reading 265 on Wednesday. Experts say the change in the weather system is the primary cause of the poor air quality. As streams run dry, wild animals from national parks are entering human settlements, leading to human-wildlife conflict. A mid-winter census shows a decline in both bird species and population in the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve and its vicinity.

Nepal ranks 10th among nations most affected by climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index 2021. On Friday, a westerly front finally brought some relief in the form of snow in the higher reaches of the Nepal Himalaya and rain at lower altitudes, which helped douse some of the wildfires. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology has predicted more precipitation over central and eastern Nepal into Saturday, with the weather clearing up after that.

Key Takeaways

  • Wildfires have ravaged forests in Nepal, destroying homes, property, and wildlife.
  • Over 100 homes were destroyed by a fast-spreading fire in Mahottari district.
  • Human activities like cigarette butts, burning vegetation, and poaching are the main causes.
  • Nepal ranks 10th among nations most affected by climate change, leading to glacier loss.
  • Recent snowfall and rain have helped douse some wildfires, but more precipitation is expected.